Owner Space

In developed countries only 18% of women are confident that they can be a business owner, but in underdeveloped countries the number is much higher than that, said a woman entrepreneur at a panel last night.

She saw that as a problem with women’s confidence in developed countries. I see that as a benefit to smaller scale economies.   The distance between business owners and others is much shorter in those places.   Women can know and see people who own businesses and can see themselves doing it.

This is why microlending is so powerful in those economies, because women there have a strong sense that they can own a business, that they can own their own choices, that they can lead.

Women who start businesses, even in this country, tend to just start small and make it happen, leaving more men to create big business plans that dream of empires, going to ask for investment capital.   That also means that women owned businesses tend to be smaller and more flexible, reflecting a woman’s priority to balance her life.

The problem in developed countries, as I see it, is that we raise kids up in a conformist, consumer culture.   Instead of teaching kids that they need to own their own lives, we teach them to be good shoppers, following the rules and the complaining if they don’t get the outcome that they want.

Owner culture isn’t understood or valued in huge and developed economies in the same way it has to be valued in smaller and less developed ones.   In those. consumer culture dominates, leaving us to complain that we didn’t get what we thought we should when we bought into the games they taught us in school.

Learning to own your own life, your own choices and your own power is so damn hard.   One woman on the panel last night said that she wants to convince girls that they don’t have to play small, don’t have to succumb to pressure to so the nice things, announcing that she was a powerful woman.   In the next sentence, though, she rolled that back, admitting that she wasn’t really that powerful, that she worried and such.

In small, human scale cultures, we understand “and.”   She is powerful and she is vulnerable, an owner and a person.   In larger, compartmentalized cultures we demand specialization, changing the paradigm to “or.”    Are you a woman or a business owner?   Are you emotional or an entrepreneur?

This vision of separation does not serve us, especially as women who have so many different roles to play in the world.

One woman told the story of a candidate her husband was interviewing, a man who could only take the job if he could work a four day week, taking the other to care for his children and his wife.   Her husband just responded badly to this, saying that we are powerful executives, not caretakers, astounded at the chutzpah this guy had in asking for this.

She told her husband that anyone with this clear a vision of priorities and commitments would probably be a good hire, and wondered why this fellow couldn’t both be a good executive and a good husband & father.   He was hired, and he is rocking.

Her husband had to face one of the big challenges of owner culture: owning his own assumptions, expectations and biases in a way that he could examine and change them.  He had to examine the situation as it was, not as he would have it be, and make the best choice he could.

Owning your own happiness and your own choices, not just expecting to be happy with what you can get off the shelf is a central component of entrepreneurship.  We have to walk into mixed and messy situations and make the best of them, finding the best in us, in our partners and in what is at hand to create better solutions for everyone.

Creating an owner culture is not easy.   It requires not only that we own our own choices but that we understand the level to which others own their own choices so we can create coalition and collaboration with them. They are going to be human, fallible and with their own priorities, not canned product that is either what we expect or is to be thrown out.

If you think facing your assumptions and then changing your choices to make them more effective in the world is stupid and just for wimps, you can never enter owner culture.    Owners have to build satisfaction across relationships, not simply demand it as what they are due, what they paid for.    That magic trick of both being confident & authoritative while also being engaged & responsive isn’t easy, but it is at the core of being an owner.

Owners are always real people, which can be hard for people raised in a consumer culture to understand.   If you see owners as “them,” you will never be able to feel comfortable and confident in your ownership of your little piece of the economy, of your bit of our world.

Teaching that ownership is not only possible but that it is desirable and exciting is hard when people believe that they are just consumers, only able to complain if they don’t get what they they want and they need.

In more human scale economies this is easier to understand, but if we want our economy to more reflect and celebrate humanity over a big business separation between owners and consumers, it is vital to help people move to owner space.

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